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Are Some Problems Just Unsolvable?

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I’m often very critical of myself and my work. I look for ways to be a better leader. I look for ways to be a better agency and advisor to my clients. I work as though we’re about to lose every client, and that their success is a matter of life and death to me.

Running an agency is tough. Even our best clients often take less than half of our suggestions.

But I’ve been doing this for five years, and I’ve encountered a scenario a few times that I have no answer for.

“Perhaps there’s no answer.”

I’m a problem solver. That is literally what I do for a living…I figure out how things work. So when I find a situation that seems to have no solution, it is exceedingly frustrating.

Maybe I’m missing something. Here is the scenario as told through the lens of building a house.

Me: “So in order to build this house, we’ll need to order all of the materials and begin construction from the ground up, starting with the foundation and then working our way up to the higher level floors. Once we’ve built the frame of the house, we’ll ensure the house is properly setup with plumbing and electricity. After that we’ll paint all of the rooms and you can move in.”

Them“That sounds like a great plan! Thank you.”

Me“Excellent, we’ll get started.”

One week later…

Me“Ok, so we’ve hired the construction staff, and we’re now ready to begin ordering the raw materials. Would you like us to–“

Them“Would it be possible to skip ordering the materials and go straight to painting the rooms?”

Me“Um, not exactly. In order to paint the rooms, we first need to build the house so there are rooms to paint.”

Them“Yeah, we’re just really concerned about the colors of the bedrooms”

Me“Ok, I guess we could order some paint if you’d like to start thinking about that but I don’t thi–“

Them“Yes, that’s great. Let’s start with that.”

Me“Ok, so what sort of colors would you want to use for the bedrooms?”

Them“We’ve been working together a few weeks now, I think you should know what colors we like.”

Me“Ok, we’ll come back with some suggestions. However it’s important to note that unless we buy these raw materials and build the first floor, we won’t have the bedrooms to paint on the second floor”

Them“Well, you should’ve thought of that.”

This is hyperbolic to illustrate the point. But is it anymore absurd than to have a “blueprint” created for marketing your business that relies on a process of building a foundation only to then skip ahead and insist that it can be done without crucial building blocks?

Similarly, to use the same lens, we’ve had situations where we show the blueprint for building a house in Philadelphia. Get agreement on the plan, build it, only to be told it should’ve been built in Los Angeles AFTER it is completed.

In each of these scenarios we followed the sage advice of getting alignment at the start, getting the buy-in and agreement early, only to then have it turned on us, as if doing what we agreed upon is incorrect. Or to be held accountable for having the very things we warned about (we can’t paint a room that doesn’t exist) thrown back at us.

Perhaps there is no answer, though every time something like this happens, I will undoubtedly stay up late into the night looking for all of the ways we could’ve painted that non-existent room.

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